Neil Warnock: Relegated by a 'penalty' that wasn't given at Old Trafford
What I Learnt This Week
The moment Michael Oliver waved play on after Michael Carrick brought down Fulham's Danny Murphy on Monday night brought back a painful memory. Martin Jol isn't the first manager to come away from Old Trafford nursing a grievance about a penalty his team weren't given, and he won't be the last, but at least he won't be relegated as a consequence. I was.
Six years ago, when I was at Sheffield United, we went to Old Trafford late in the campaign. We were losing 2-0 when a striker called Luton Shelton skipped past Gabriel Heinze, who brought him down. It was a certain penalty and red card. United would have been down to 10 men with more than 20 minutes left. A certain Mr Rob Styles was the only man in the stadium who did not agree it was a penalty. Less than a month later we were relegated, by a single goal on goal difference.
I used to think referees intentionally favoured big clubs. I don't now, but I do suspect they are influenced subconsciously. If you make a bad decision against Sheffield United, who's bothered? Make a bad one against Manchester United and all the world knows about it. That's bound to be at the back of a ref's mind; he will want to be certain.
There is another aspect. Bigger clubs usually have so much of the play they are more likely to have players fouled, so they will get more free-kicks and penalties. Smaller teams don't get many opportunities to get a penalty in such games, so when it's turned down it is more noticeable, and more crucial.
There was another incident I thought of on Monday. Earlier this season Oliver gave a penalty against QPR when we played Aston Villa for an apparent shirt-pull. The Villa player didn't even appeal for a penalty, nor did the away fans behind that goal. Our players had no idea what the decision was for, yet we found ourselves 1-0 down. I think when he saw the penalty he realised he'd made a mistake, but it is a mistake that is easier to get over when there is not the publicity an error against United provokes.
2 It's a simple case of mistaken identify, ref!
Talking about Manchester United, and refereeing decisions, I did make myself look silly this week. Do you remember referee Steve Bennett? He was a stickler for rules; he used to blow, or give out a card, no matter what the circumstances, if that was what the laws called for. He was what I call a manufactured ref.
Do you remember when United had to get a result at Wigan in the last game of the season to win the title, and Paul Scholes, who'd been booked, committed a yellow card offence but Bennett didn't book him? I thought at the time: "Next time I see him, I'll ask him why."
Last week, at Millwall, I saw him. He was the referee's assessor. So I reminded him of the game, then asked him what was his thought process. He looked at me and said: "Sorry, you've got the wrong guy." It was Barry Knight, another ex-ref who looks just like Steve Bennett. Well, he does to me, anyway. I felt a right idiot. Sorry Barry. And I still don't have the answer to my question. Steve, if you're reading this, please let me know.
3 Yes, that was me with the supermarket trolley
I began to wonder on Thursday night, as I pushed my trolley down the aisle, if other managers go shopping in supermarkets. Probably not, to judge from the reaction I got.
People looked surprised, to put it mildly. I'd see them staring at me, then I'd turn the corner and find they'd followed me to see if their eyes were deceiving them: a football manager – buying groceries! A couple of shoppers said: "Excuse me, are you Neil?" I said: "I hope so."
I've been twice this week. The first time I only went in for a few things and, as always, ended up spending a fortune. Blokes are like that. Women think of all the things you need, men think of all the things they've not eaten for a while.
I then had to do a full shop as the family are coming up for half-term. I bet they can't wait. William's had to kill the time skiing with school while Sharon and Amy have been counting down the days in Dubai.
Sharon and me were supposed to be having a romantic few days in Venice, then I took this job. So Sharon activated an agreement we'd made that if I took over anywhere before the end of season she was going away with Amy when William went skiing. Which is why, on Monday, while I was sunbathing in the garden, she and Amy were shivering in smog in Dubai. I tried not to laugh when they rang.
The sun did emerge and they had a great time by all accounts, enjoying the water parks and the amazing hotels over there. But the best is to come, as on Tuesday we're all going to Flamingoland, the theme park in North Yorkshire. I hope I still have my nerve on them rides.
4 It's a rollercoaster ride – with as many ups as downs
The whole Leeds United team, staff and families are coming to Flamingoland – they sponsor our academy. They must like their football as they were Scarborough's sponsors when I was manager there a quarter-century ago.
It's an appropriate venue as it has been a real rollercoaster at Leeds, and not just since I arrived. The last two games sum it up. We got beat 7-3 at home by Nottingham Forest and our season was finished according to the media, and if you watched us play that night, you'd agree. But we managed to regroup and come back with maximum points from Millwall, where I'm told we hadn't won in years. So, once again, everyone is talking up our play-off chances.
I'm amazed we're still in touch, but while I notice some newspapers have said Leeds have "only won twice" since I came to Elland Road I'd like to point out we've only lost two. Statistics are there to interpret however you want to.
Today we play Watford, who are one of the Championship's form teams and will themselves be thinking of the play-offs since they are only six points away. And they are 14th. It shows what a great idea the play-offs are – though when you're involved you don't always think so, especially if you're the team which finishes one place below automatic promotion. Certainly, whoever misses out between Reading and West Ham will find it very hard to lift themselves.
We go to Reading on Good Friday. I'm really pleased for Brian McDermott, and for the trio of my ex-players he's got: Mikele Leigertwood, Kaspars Gorkss and Matt Connolly. Reading are where they are because they have no obvious weaknesses, and they consistently get a good level of performance from everyone. That's what the Championship is all about. I can't see Reading losing 7-3.
5 Di Matteo can have the job, and lose it by Christmas
It was a brave team selection by Roberto Di Matteo in Lisbon this week, when you consider the players he left out, but the XI he picked was a solid one and it got a great result for him. A few more like that and he might get the job full-time. Then, given the lifespan of managers at Chelsea, he can get sacked at Christmas and become a very wealthy man.
6 Sorry, Swanny, everyone knew a collapse was coming
Watching the Test match highlights this week it did make me laugh when Graeme Swann said, on the eve of what proved the last day, with England still needing more than 200 runs: "We're favourites". Let's be honest, everyone expected a collapse, and when we collapse, we just go. This winter shows it is one thing reaching the top; the hard part, in any sport, is staying there.
7 My dad bought a car for the cost of filling the tank today
The talking point for everyone this week has been fuel, the cost of it and possible lack of it. I can't imagine what my dad would have said if I told him it cost £100 to fill the car up. I remember when I was a kid dad bought his first car for £100, an Austin A40. He had the choice of buying our house as the housing trust which owned it was selling, or the car. He bought the car; mum weren't too happy about it. She was even less happy when he wrote it off a few months later – the car wheel got stuck in a tramline and he drove into a gaslamp! It wasn't the happiest times for us, but in fairness to him I think he wanted to use it to take mum out as she was in a wheelchair.
As you can imagine, with a job in Yorkshire and a family in London, it would not be ideal for me to have a fuel shortage. I don't think the Government helped much; we'll probably have a shortage of jerrycans now. So look out for me hitching by the M1.
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